MONTPELIER, Ind. — official series release — CSP/Chris Seelman photo —
Kyle Larson doesn’t get the chance to jump behind the wheel of a USAC midget as often as he once did due to his NASCAR commitments, but on Tuesday night in the 12th annual Indiana Midget Week opener at Montpelier Motor Speedway, Larson looked as if he never left the open wheel ranks.
Larson claimed his first USAC victory since 2013 in the series’ first visit to the quarter-mile oval, passing teammate Tanner Thorson with a huge slider at the five to go mark and going on to record a crowd-pleasing victory ahead of his next NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start this coming weekend at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.
Larson, in one of eight Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports entries, started on a star-studded front row that included recent Indianapolis 500 starter Bryan Clauson on the outside. Larson quickly jetted out to the lead at the start, but on the second circuit, teammate Tanner Thorson threw his car to the track’s edge, running down and disposing of Larson as the two reached the flagstand at the end of lap two.
On lap five, a Steve Buckwalter turn-four tip over, that also collected Dave Darland, brought out the red flag.
Thorson, who was looking to repeat his Indiana Midget Week opening-night victory from a year ago, came under constant attack from Larson as the race neared the one-third mark.
Larson threw a rapid fire succession of sliders on Thorson on the tenth lap in turns one and three, but was unable to keep the advantage after pushing the nose of his machine over the cushion. On lap 11, Larson attacked Thorson once again in the first turn with a slider, but Thorson battled back to remain up front.
Two laps later, Larson attempted yet another major slide job on Thorson for the top spot, pulling in front and almost bringing the two a halt as Thorson continued on and Clauson scooted past Larson for second.
Just before the halfway point, it was Clauson’s turn to take on Thorson for the lead. Clauson’s slider attempt briefly put him in front, but it was to no avail as Thorson fought his way to remain the man to beat.
After a Spencer Bayston spin on lap 18 brought out the yellow, Clauson immediately returned to the “slider-fest” on the ensuing restart, entering turn one with a full head of steam, emerging in front of Thorson at the top of turn one, but Thorson made contact with the rear bumper of Clauson’s car, sending Larson slightly off the berm as Thorson sped off with the advantage as Larson moved back into second.
Thorson and Larson distanced themselves from Clauson with less than ten to go as Larson bounced off the concrete in turn four, but a Holly Shelton spin in turn four reset the lineup with just eight laps remaining.
After the restart, Larson followed Thorson on the high side for the next couple of laps, setting up his next move on Thorson.
With five to go, Larson finally made the slide job stick as the two entered one, with Larson pulling away and building a gap between him and second-running Thorson. But once again, a yellow slowed the action, setting up a three-lap shootout between Larson, Thorson, Clauson and Bell, who charged from the tail after an opening lap incident.
Larson was able to get a huge jump on the restart as Thorson began to fade and Clauson and Bell moved past Thorson to run second and third. However, no one was in the vicinity of the former NASCAR Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year, who pulled away at the end to take a 1.905-second victory over Clauson, Bell, Jerry Coons Jr. and Brady Bacon.